SOPA. PIPA. Lets Call the Whole Thing Off.

The blackout has come and gone for the digital protest of potential censorship and criminalizing the memer and the blogger. SOPA and PIPA represented another front for the unwashed, outspoken masses to rail against over-regulation and broad stroke legislation.

Little was accomplished with our silence and “off-line” statuses on Wednesday. Poppycock joined thousands of bloggers, websites like Reddit and Wikipedia, and many other sites in protest of hastily written bills before the House and Senate to #protectintellectualproperty and #combatpiracy.

I suppose one might have to admit that the widespread protest did at least as much as to raise awareness to  potentially dangerous bills before Congress. Bills designed to protect, but will, if enacted, do more harm than good; like the seat belt that saved your life on impact only to trap you in your burning car turned four-wheeled coffin.

Author of SOPA, Lamar Smith

As written, as far as my research and limited legal mind can infer, the bills are written in such vague and interpretable language as to allow for prosecution of parent search engines and sites facilitating user-generated content. In essence, Reddit could be on the hook for potentially illegal content found through their site that is posted by a third-party; it’s charging the gun manufacturer with first-degree murder where an unregistered weapon was used.

I applaud the idea that protection of personal property be it real, digital, literal, or intellectual, needs to be a priority for those who create it; but the simple writing of just something over doing nothing is no answer at all, yet it’s one used by legislators with growing regularity. Some clunky and slow swinging sledgehammer does little to help a situation that calls for more surgical precision that we designed scalpels for. Right tool, right job.

Alexis Ohanian, cofounder of the ravenously popular Reddit, said it best in an interview on G4 Tuesday. He said that the bills are too vague, and were clearly not written with technologists at the table. Had SOPA or PIPA existed when he and Steve Huffman were launching Reddit, it never would have gotten off the ground; it would have been largely illegal.

I am all for protecting the rights of entrepreneurs, writers, photographers, musicians, filmmakers, and the like. As a writer and photographer, I know that what I create has both a monetary and intrinsic, emotional value to me. Someone passing off my work as their own, plagiarism, should be punished. As a production studio, artist, or creator of any kind, I know there is a very clear and numerical monetary value placed on every illegal download and theft of copyrighted material. SOPA and PIPA are just not the answer.

The internet is a being, a living creature that we have created and have no idea how to control or regulate. It is amorphous and doesn’t fit in to the structure of any of the confines and very meticulous laws that we have set forth in our many years. It is not a “real” world. Police don’t exist there. It is, for the most part, the last Wild West frontier that certainly needs taming for the civilized folk to want to live there. Who would make the move west if all we are going to get is robbed, raped, and murdered? Certainly not me. Well, I do live there, but my business doesn’t really have anything worth stealing, so I don’t really worry about locking my doors at night.

For everyone else, trying desperately to lock things up tight and keep from getting robbed, I fully support some Pinkertons coming to town. Hey, I’ve got nothing to hide. Well, I did pull some photos off the web that MIGHT be subject to copyright, but that’s not a big deal, right? Okay, I’ll come quietly, but this is all a big misunderstanding…

Regulation is necessary, so what can be so bad with SOPA and PIPA? We’ll refine them as we go along, but for now, we need at least something. This is dangerous thinking that is probably what got those bills written. The problem with laws of such a nature as these bills, is that it almost encourages corruption and potential censorship equally harmful to that of the illegal practices of piracy. A classic tale of woe, replacing one evil with another.

I suggest regulation, but it should come from within. Much as the MPAA rates its own films, and much as the gaming industry rates and regulates the sale of its games, despite that M-rated material can legally be sold to a minor (thanks, Supreme Court!); these industries took it upon themselves to regulate out of a moral conscience for a greater good and a responsibility to society.

This has nothing to do with web regulation, but it shows that an industry can regulate itself, so why not a marketplace? What’s the harm? Could it be worse than it is? Wall Street went highly unregulated and has screwed the US pooch more times than we can keep track of; the market pops more bubbles than a herd of 6-year olds at a birthday party. We saw the pop of the internet startups bubble in the nineties, but it never crippled the worldwide economy. If we’re not going to regulate the stock market and companies therein in any significant manner, then why must we throw the yolk of fear and culpability on the internet?

We could potentially appoint a committee to oversee internet activity and potentially illegal activity, but it is truly unrealistic. The net is not a brick and mortar city, it cannot be governed by a committee, a city council, or policed by a force of men that can catch pirates in a speed trap and hand out tickets on the internet super highway between Sidereel and Wikipedia. You can’t send SWAT in to a blog, kicking in the door and arresting everyone inside for FCC and copyright violations. There are billions of doors in hundreds of countries. It’s just unreasonable.

Let the onus of copyright and protecting their material be on that of the business or website that is posting for consumption. When you’ve got an apple cart on the sidewalk at a Saturday market, it’s up to the retailer of apples to keep an eye out for five-finger discounts. It’s not good for business to have a police officer leering over said produce enthusiasts.

A marketplace like the internet is too diverse and too ambiguous and anonymous to call for traditional laws. Each company, site, or business, has a responsibility to protect their property. If they find signs of theft, or catch a thief, then good for them, but laws governing everyone and everything on the web does no more good than a law governing every person in the world; your laws don’t apply here.

If there must be some overall governing laws specifically tailored to the web, then we need to work with the entrepreneurs that tamed this wild frontier. Who better to advise a layman on the pressing matter of lawfulness than an expert? Get everyone involved that thrives in this world, in spite of piracy and unlawful activity.

A perfect example of where there is a disconnect between the digital world and reality: “You must be 18 years of age to view these materials. If you are under the age of 18, click NO, if you are 18 years of age or older, click YES.” Have we figured out a way to verify the age of a user yet? Is there a sure-fire algorithm devised that can verify the age of the finger clicking the mouse? Not that I know of. I always clicked YES, and I started clicking it when I was 14 or 15. Never got my door kicked in by a SWAT team. Maybe this is step one, but I suppose that figuring out a PIN for all adults required to view sensitive material would be too much to ask. Something like 431-629. It’s not a huge leap, but most kids know how to click a mouse, and can do simple math to pick a birth date that will get them access to porn and or violent material. Just saying, but hey, lets worry about the bottom line and how much money people are losing instead of the welfare of our impressionable children. Ahhh, American priorities.

There is no easy answer of how to combat piracy and internet fraud and theft. It is a tricky devil. IP addresses aren’t quite as solid in court as fingerprints and DNA. “Someone must have hacked my computer” is a completely legitimate excuse for having stolen material on a hard drive. Instead of starting with a vague law, why not start with what and who you want to prosecute and then reverse engineer a law applying specifically to that activity. Still more layman thinking, I guess.

I am no techno savvy nerd. My skills run more in the vein of movie trivia, video games, and to a lesser extent the written word. So, no law makers will be calling me for advisement. There are experts out there with useful, insightful experience for a congressman who can’t even design their own campaign website or write their own tweets #howdoicheckmyemail.

Regulation will come in one form or another. It may be by the SOPA and PIPA jackboot of vagary under the sledgehammer of totalitarian anti-piracy. It might come from self-governance and businesses investing in better security, clever coding, and well written and prosecutable end-user agreements…not to mention a man-sized safe or two. It may, and least likely, come by way of incremental, levelheaded change from the bottom up; both structural and lawful changes that protect the end-users and the entrepreneurs from the “illegal” acts of a mere fraction of the customer base. Whatever the form, we must be both hesitant and ever thoughtful of the worst case scenario. Civil liberties are constantly jeopardized today, and a bastion of near apparent lawlessness like the internet could easily become over regulated as to push out invention and creativity and stunt the growth of the real world in the process. It is all about the big picture, and some restraint now can pay big dividends far greater than the example that can be made by a blacklisted site or some poor schlep in cuffs over aggregating political links and movie poster pics for some stupid blog on WordPress (he wrote with a darting glance and a lump in his throat).

Crime occurs in the real world in every facet even with the overbearing micromanagement of common moral fiber that we live under now. Why would the internet become any cleaner, safer, or more productive if we regulate it? A war on piracy? We have lost the war on terrorism and that good old war on drugs and will lose the war on cyberbullying and our frontal assault on Christmas; why would piracy end any differently? I already must pay a toll to get on the internet by companies, must my civil liberties and fear of prosecution for retweeting #wearethe99percent? A digital police state, indeed, and that is a far worse fate than the binary wild west we live in now.

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One thought on “SOPA. PIPA. Lets Call the Whole Thing Off.

  1. The Reddit guy hits it on the head when he said a technologist clearly wasn’t involved in making either SOPA or PIPA. They are laws written to solve a problem that the writers don’t even understand. People who don’t understand technology should not be in a position to make up rules about how it should work. That’s why I oppose SOPA/PIPA.

    I don’t know if you came across it in your research, but the stanford law reviews’ explanation of SOPA/PIPA is the most easily digestible piece of criticism on the laws that I was able to find. Its not so in depth that a layman can’t understand it with a little work, but it lays out the reality of the way DNS (Domain Name Servers) work and their importance in making the internet a global communications network…and why blocking them individually de-web-ifies the web. http://www.stanfordlawreview.org/online/dont-break-internet

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